Carnivorous Plants: Parrot Pitcher

Today, I want to introduce you to the parrot pitcher (Sarracenia psittacina), which is a type of trumpet pitcher!

I like to think of the parrot pitcher as a bit of a magician or an illusionist.

The parrot pitcher lies horizontally.

In order to lure the animals in, the parrot pitcher places nectar on the outside and inside of its hood. This sweetness is all part of its magical illusion.

The hood of the trap is shaped like a bulbous beak. This beak has a small entrance to it, which lies below the tip of the beak. This entrance has walls, like an entrance hallway. The plant does that so that once an animal* enters the trap to eat nectar, it will be difficult to find the way out.

Once the animal enters the trap, it will discover the hood is covered in white dots that function as windows! Sunlight streams through these windows, which misleads the animal into thinking that there is an exit nearby. The animal keeps moving toward the light of the windows; as it does this, it moves further from the true entrance.

Juvenile parrot pitchers developing their windows

As the animal tries to escape, the illusions and structure of the plant direct the animal into the long tube of the pitcher. Unlike other trumpet pitchers, the tube of the parrot pitcher does not have water in it. Instead, its tube has a firm layer of inward facing hairs. Traveling further into the tube, the animal moves easily through these hairs. However, when the animal arrives at the end of tube, the animal realizes that it has reached a dead end. Then, when the animal then tries to move back, the inward facing hairs hold it firmly in place.

Gotcha, I imagine the plant saying, you’ve been trapped!

The parrot pitcher can trap animals on dry land and under flood water.

Interestingly, the parrot pitcher is the only carnivorous plant that can trap animals while on dry land and while under water! The bladderwort catches animals under water only;** the other trumpet pitchers catch animals on dry land only. Uniquely, the parrot pitcher catches animals both on dry land and submerged under water.

How did this come to be?

The parrot pitcher lives in places prone to flooding, so it has adjusted to catching animals while submerged under flood waters. In fact, the parrot pitcher is better at catching animals under water than on dry land! For example, the parrot pitcher is particularly effective at catching small crustaceans such as water fleas (Daphnia).

“There are booby traps all around.”

The parrot pitcher lives in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

Its deviousness is a great reminder to little ones: watch where you step!

There are boobytraps all around!

*The animal kingdom includes vertabrates and inverabrates like insects. Since carnivorous plants have been known to eat a variety of vertabrates and invertabrates, animal is the generic term used for the prey of carnivorous plants.

**The bladderwort only catches prey under water. That said, there are terrestrial bladderwort species in addition to aquatic species. The terrestrial species catch animals in wet muddy bog mediums. Their traps are located underground and they require a water-filled medium in order for the physics of their traps to work.

I learned about the parrot pitcher from the book Carnivorous Plants by Adrian Slack.

I took these pictures at the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center.

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